Top 100 Baseball Blog

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Peter Golenbock: The Writer

                I have always been an avid reader, and as a baseball fan, a good book on some aspect of the game is something you are likely to see on my shelf. By good baseball book, I don’t mean the self-congratulatory biographies that have been so prevalent over the years. A good baseball book, or any non-fiction book for that matter, is one that displays the truth, in all its beautiful and ugly vestiges. It’s not about uncovering scandal or sensationalizing what happened, because if the book is thoroughly researched and well written enough, the truth will hold up on its own.
                One author who I have always admired is Peter Golenbock. If there was a Mount Rushmore of sports authors, he would surely be on it. Although he does not write exclusively on baseball, that is how I know him best. He has taken on individuals, teams, and even dynasties. To name a few, he has written Balls, Teammates, Dynasty, Bats, and The Bronx Zoo. There are many others, all of which I would recommend checking out. You can get a complete rundown of his work by going to
                The written work of Peter Golenbock comes through in an authentic voice, and he really does justice to his subjects. As I mentioned earlier, when I am reading something, I like to believe that I am getting the truth, and that is why I count Mr. Golenbock among my favorite authors. His books always go beyond what you see in the newspapers or on television. If you want to see the truth behind your favorite players, coaches, and teams, his books are a good place to start. Now that I am starting to try and get my feet wet in writing, I hope that I can experience a fraction of his success.

Peter Golenbock Interview:

How did you first become interested in writing; particularly baseball writing?: That’s an interesting question. It started fairly early. It really started with Dr. Joseph R. Kidd, who was the headmaster of St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, Connecticut where I went. It started in 6th grade. He was the English teacher as well as the owner of the school. He was the one who drilled the various grammar points and we would diagram sentences, and he would make us write themes every Monday. He’s the one who stressed the importance of writing and reading. 

I also was born with baseball genes. I’m not quite sure why that was, but I’ve always had a tremendous interest in baseball. I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, so I had the Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants to watch. I was a fan of the Yankees, so I had Mantle and then later Maris, and so forth and so on.

While I was in high school I was the sports editor of whatever the high school newspaper was and then when I got to Dartmouth as a freshman I joined The Dartmouth and very quickly I took on a very important role in the sports department. As a freshman I was writing football games. By my junior year I was elected sports editor. It was something that I really loved doing, though all the time I had intended to become a lawyer. My father was a lawyer, my uncle was a lawyer, two of my cousins are lawyers, my sister was a lawyer. It seems to run in the family.

But at Dartmouth when I got there, the Athletic Director was Red Rolfe, who had been the Yankee third baseman with DiMaggio and Gehrig and so forth. When I was a kid, I was about 13, I’d say, I found a book called The New York Yankees by Frank Graham, in the Stamford library, and I started to read it. I was actually fixated by what I was reading and I must have read that book 10 times. So, when I came to Dartmouth and I found Red Rolfe who was one of the figures in that book, I was thrilled. Red at the time was somewhat elderly and a lot of the coaches wanted him out; they wanted a new Athletic Director. But I was 16 or 17 year old kid, a freshman at Dartmouth, and here was Red Rolfe, to me he was you know, a God. I would spend time sitting with him and talking with him about the Yankees and what he remembered about Gehrig. I wrote articles about him for the newspaper and it was just wonderful. I just remember just how fabulous it was doing that and of course later on it became my life.

What would you consider your first major break in writing?: When I was at Dartmouth I wrote for the New York Times and I wrote for the Boston Globe. And then when I was in law school I wrote for the Stamford Advocate and Bobby Kennedy was the sports editor, and he was a friend of mine. He gave me credentials. He didn’t pay me any money, but he gave me access to the Knicks, and the Rangers, and the Yankees, the Mets, the Jets, and all those teams in New York. So I got pretty well carte blanche to go wherever I wanted to write about O.J. Simpson, wrote about the Knicks, wrote about Joe Namath, which was wonderful. I became a friend of Phil Jackson. Sally Gold was a classmate of mine at NYU Law School and Sally had gone to the University of North Dakota with Phil, and she introduced the two of us, and we became good friends and that was loads of fun during the three years I was in Law School. 

Then I went to work for Prentice Hall as a lawyer and writer. At Prentice Hall I talked myself into getting a contract to write Dynasty and that is really I would say my first big break. 

Do you have any advice to aspiring writers?: It’s never too late. The problem you have today is that it is so much more difficult to get a book contract than it used to be. So, if you want to write, unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to get paid for. So blogging has become something that everybody does, though very few get paid for. But you don’t really have any choice. It’s like if you want to be a writer, the only thing you can do is write. My advice is to write. I also recommend finding a local newspaper. Be it a weekly newspaper- that was my first job, with The Suburbanite, it was a weekly, and I got paid 50 cents an inch, and I used to write page long articles at 50 cents an inch. You take a job even if you have to work the first month or two for nothing to get your foot in the door.

What are some good ways for writers to get noticed?: I don’t. What you do is when you’ve got a bunch of articles that have been published, make sure that you save them in some sort of archive, either online or on paper, and hopefully the next step is somebody… will hire you directly.

How difficult was it to cultivate the relationships needed to conduct the many interviews you have done for your books?: I was lucky. I never had a problem with it. I always looked forward to interviewing the people. I always made sure I was prepared so that they knew I was serious. I would tell them what I was doing and I found that most of the time, the people you sought out would be cooperative.

Was it difficult to ask the tough questions when needed?: Well, I don’t think it’s ever difficult because you’re trying to write history. You’re not asking tough questions necessarily, you’re asking what happened. You don’t have to be an asshole about it. It’s the old, who was that fellow… Joe Friday. ‘Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.’

What is your favorite thing that you have written and why?: It’s like picking among your children. Among the favorites; certainly Dynasty, which was my first book, the sort of oral history of the Casey Stengel, Ralph Houk, Yogi Berra Yankees. I wrote a book called In the Country of Brooklyn, which is not necessarily a sports book, but Jackie Robinson of course played a role. It’s about the liberal influence of the borough Brooklyn, which I always thought was really a terrific book. I love Wild, High and Tight, which is my biography of Billy Martin, as well as Miracle, which was the biography of Bobby Allison the stock car driver. That is just a few of them.

What is one burning topic you would still like to write about?: I’m thinking right now about writing sort of an overall history of the Yankees; in sort of a historical novel sense. I am going to take a fellow who was born in the year 1900 and dies in the year 2000, and let him talk about all the things he saw in between. The Yankees have a very, very interesting history, including a lot of stuff that an awful lot of people don’t know anything about.

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